§ 2.47 p.m.
§ The Question was as follows:
§ To ask the Leader of the House what steps he proposes to codify the present practice of the House of Lords with regard to voting on Government Bills at Second and Third Reading.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)
None, my Lords. The powers which this House possesses are considerable, but it has in the past exercised them with restraint, as indeed I hope that it will in the future. This restraint has been self-imposed, and I suspect that any attempt by the Leader of the House for the time being to impose a code of practice to regulate the position would be neither welcome nor effective.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, while expressing my gratitude to the noble Viscount for that Answer, may I ask him whether he is aware that there is considerable confusion among Ministers as to the extent of what he calls the restraint and what I might call the conventions under which this House works, particularly with regard to Second and Third Readings and in regard to the Motions which have recently been laid before your Lordships' House? Therefore, does he not think it would be helpful if this matter were to be examined by the appropriate committee and reported on, so that the House would have an opportunity to decide the extent of the conventions and whether the House ought to be bound by them? Is it not of considerable importance that when he and his noble friends find themselves sitting on this side of the Chamber they should feel bound by pecisely the same self-denying ordinance as do the present Opposition parties?
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, of course it is open to this House and, naturally, to the Procedure Committee to make any changes that they wish. If 7 they did so wish, of course it could be done. As far as the details are concerned, as a newcomer to this House I have learnt that a certain flexibility, together with a certain understanding of convention, has worked much to the benefit of this House. I hope that it will always be thus; and although I do not anticipate my translation from one side of the House to the other (although one never knows), I do not imagine that I would adopt any different position if I were in opposition from that which I seek to adopt now, except that I should be seeking to beat the Government, at which I think other people seem to be very successful, instead of defending them, at which I do not seem always to have been so successful.